While many celebrate Mother’s Day joyously with big plans and gifts, others struggle with difficult feelings, finding the day quite challenging. For Gloria Scoggins, author of “Through a Trail of Tears: A Black Family's Story of Generational Wealth”, the sentimental day no longer looks how it once did. 

In 2016, her mother Ermestine Martin was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Known as a strong, courageous and fearless businesswoman and advocate for justice, Scoggins describes her mother as a “force.”

As detailed in Scoggins’ book, Martin fought against systemic racism in the Bay Area housing market, providing housing to hundreds of families. She paved the way for Black property ownership, encouraging it as a means of creating generational wealth. Through all of her efforts, she became the largest Black property owner in Richmond, CA, building a sizable fortune for her family in the real estate industry.

When symptoms began to manifest, Martin fought for her independence, determined to continue managing her business. However, the changes in her personality and difficulties with problem-solving, complex tasks and financial decisions were enough to affect her work. Making sound business decisions became harder and her business began to suffer. 

Through a Trail of Tears
Gloria Petgrave Scoggins

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“Gradually, Alzheimer’s began affecting most areas of her brain–memory, judgment, thinking, problem-solving, personality and language,” explains Scoggins. “She began getting lost in familiar locations and had trouble driving home after work. It became a common practice for her to lose or misplace her keys. She became more confused and forgetful and began to need more help with daily activities and self-care. She experienced periods of restlessness, and agitations with outbursts of aggressive verbal and physical behavior.”

Mother’s Day brings reflections about how traditionally, Scoggins and her family spent the special day acknowledging and expressing appreciation, love and respect by spending quality time with their mothers. Her family would celebrate by attending church and brunch. 

“My mother and grandmother dressed in their finest Sunday attire, and always wore a white or red carnation corsage as a badge, presented by my father. Mother’s Day was an all-day personal celebration of love and respect. And because my birthday often fell on the holiday, my mother always recognized me for being her daughter on her special day,” Scoggins shares.    

This year, with Mother’s Day coinciding with Scoggin’s 74th birthday, she will also be missing her mother’s expressions of love and sentimental messages. For the last six years, Martin has not seemed aware of her daughter’s presence at her bedside, her voice or her touch. The disease has progressed to the point that she no longer remembers her daughter’s name, birthday, or sometimes who she is.

Although I didn’t always receive a card, gift, slice of cake, or spend my birthday with her, my mother always expressed how much she loved me. She always found the right words to really express what I meant to her. In my youth, she would say, ‘Happy daughter’s day’ and let me know how special she thought I was. As a teenager, I remember her saying in a matter-of-fact manner but in a heartfelt tone, 'There’s never a day that I don’t pray for you.'

After her mother’s diagnosis, Scoggins retired, so she could care for her mom full time. Since then, her primary focus has been looking after Martin’s well-being and ensuring that she is living her best, most comfortable life possible while dealing with the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease. Knowing that groups of people, noise and movement can agitate her, and having concerns over potential exposure to COVID-19, she has been reluctant to welcome anyone into the home. However, she is considering visitation from all family members this year.

“This Mother’s Day, my mother is a hospice patient, lying in a hospital bed in her own home, with 24/7 caregivers,” Scoggins says. “She has laid in that bed for almost five years, surrounded by caregivers who have demonstrated caring for her in a loving and dedicated way. But this year I will celebrate my two moms–one vibrant and full of life, in denial of her diagnosis, who is now confused and weak. I am saddened by the profound difference. But I am so grateful for both. Today, she is still teaching me to be patient and understanding, without articulating the words. Before Alzheimer’s she would say, ‘Until you walk in my shoes’ and I know that one day I may be walking in her shoes dealing with health issues. I’ve heard that Alzheimer’s goodbyes are often long and hard, and I can totally agree with that. Traveling the journey with a loved one can be overwhelming.”

“Nothing lightens up my world more than remembering the mother that raised me to be the woman I am today. Accompanying her to real estate deals, church, community meetings, social events and family gatherings are activities I enjoyed doing with her.  Remembering her words, ‘Hold your shoulder back’, ‘Smile Glo, a smile is better than a frown any day of the week.’ Vibrant and sharp as a tack, providing leadership and forging ahead in the real estate industry. The mother of my best memories is those of my past. Holding on to past Mother’s Day memories reminds me that a mother’s love is forever and never dies.”